The Genteel
February 28, 2021


Yves Saint Laurent acknowledges the audience, accompanied by his muses, Catherine Deneuve and Laetitia Casta, at the end of his final show, which was held at the Pompidou Centre on January 22, 2002 (Photo by Alexandra Boulat, Source:

In Greek mythology, The Muses are nine goddesses who inspire the creation of the arts, music and poetry. Like the Greeks, the talents of modern artists are often enhanced by such a woman: the muse; her natural charm and strong personality take the artist's work to another level. Sienna Miller portrayed Andy Warhol's infamous muse Edie Sedgwick in 2006's Factory Girl, while Miller herself has been the inspiration of designer, Matthew Williamson. Tom Ford wears his muse, model and actress Julianne Moore, on his arm at many high profile events. And the role is no longer exclusive to women; last June, Rodarte designers Laura and Kate Mulleavy appeared in the pages of W with their muse, Kanye West. In his day, Yves Saint Laurent had his share of muses who inspired his work.

Saint Laurent and Betty Catroux at dinner

Catherine Deneuve was foremost among them. "For me, she's always been someone extraordinary," Saint Laurent said during a 1992 interview with Paris Match. The two met in 1966 during the first days of filming Luis Buñuel's Belle de Jour, in which she stars and for which he designed much of the wardrobe. The two built an enduring friendship. The clothing Saint Laurent designed for Deneuve in the film represented a woman leading a double life: an haute bourgeois housewife who achieves sexual satisfaction while working in a Parisian brothel. The clothes were sexy, without sacrificing elegance, and tailored coats and silk dresses provided grand doses of Parisian glamour.

Following the success of Belle de Jour, Deneuve wore many of Saint Laurent's designs onscreen, including in La Chamade (1968), Mississippi Mermaid (1969), Liza (1972) and The Hunger (1983). Countless Saint Laurent designs hung in the French actress' closet as she became a style icon for the house. As late as 1992, she was the face of his skincare line. Her natural elegance and timeless style captivated the modernist in Saint Laurent. Faithful until the designer's death in 2008, she attended his funeral in a black trench and buckled ballerinas; the outfit, worn in a scene from Belle de Jour, was her personal tribute.

Katoucha Niane with Saint Laurent at the
FW 1989 RTW show (Source:

Saint Laurent wanted to beautify women with his clothes. He once famously stated: "Over the years I have learned that what is important in a dress is the woman who is wearing it." His collections were routinely inspired by different cultures: Central Africa for the S/S 1967 Safari collection; Russian mink coats in the A/W 1976-77 collection; his Spanish bullfighter outfit of 1979. He liked to design at his mansion in Marrakech. He was the first designer to walk ethnic models down the runway, including Naomi Campbell, Iman, Sonia Cole and Dalma Callado. In 1980, Saint Laurent first noticed Katoucha Niane, the Guinean model whose spectacular, exotic beauty made her the designer's muse for that decade. He "loved her enormously," said Dominique Deroche, head of public relations at the fashion house, following the model's death in 2008. "She was exactly like an Yves Saint Laurent drawing, a proud head on a long neck, very slim but with strong shoulders, made for haute couture." 

During the brand's golden age in the 1970s, Saint Laurent found a perfect mannequin for his collections in Betty Catroux, a slender, blond model with endless legs. Catroux was often spotted modelling Saint Laurent's designs as his nightlife partner at Studio 54 parties. He often referred to her as his twin sister and female incarnation. When Tom Ford took over YSL Rive Gauche, his debut collection channeled the chic and androgynous style of Catroux through its black suits and straight blond hair.

[Saint Laurent] declared his love for me on the spot. He said, 'You very beautiful.' He lowered his head, as if to say to me, 'I love you.' Everyone was uncomfortable.

In the 1990s, Saint Laurent's fixation shifted to French supermodel Laetitia Casta, whose sensuality, feminine curves and sweetness captivated him. Casta told Olivier Zahm in a 2011 interview for Purple magazine: "It was like a love story. We found each other. The first time I went to his studio I was extremely shy. I bowed my head. But the funniest thing is that he did, too." She added: "He declared his love for me on the spot. He said, 'You very beautiful.' He lowered his head, as if to say to me, 'I love you.' Everyone was uncomfortable."

Clients became muses, too. Bianca Jagger chose her good friend, Saint Laurent, to design her wedding dress in 1971. The impeccable, white tuxedo jacket and long skirt combo was as stunning as she was. In a 2008 article written for The Guardian, Jagger said: "I met him for the first time when I went to see him at his office at rue Spontini, as I wanted him to design my wedding dress. I was living in Paris as a young student and I wore his Rive Gauche designs because I couldn't afford his couture." She had a very clear idea of what she wanted as a wedding dress: "Contrary to popular wisdom, it wasn't a trouser suit: it was a long, narrow skirt and a jacket. He made the wide-brimmed hat with a veil and we decided that instead of carrying a bouquet I should wear a flower corsage on my wrist to go with the suit. It was always a pleasure to be dressed by Yves."

Saint Laurent with Loulou de la Falaise

But if there was a single woman who definitively influenced the artist's work, she would no doubt be Loulou de la Falaise. De la Falaise worked briefly as model, appearing in American Vogue editorial shoots. When she met Saint Laurent at a party in 1968, she was the editor of Queen, a now-defunct British society magazine. She will be remembered as one of Saint Laurent's most significant muses: "Yves Saint Laurent said that Loulou inspired him even only with her presence every day. One week she was Desdemona with her purple tunics and her flower crowns. Next week she appeared with eyebrows like Marlene Dietrich," wrote Vogue Spain in November 2011. It could be said that her charisma and expressiveness inspired Saint Laurent's most colourful collections, influencing his bohemian essence with her experience in jewellery and accessories design. In 1972, the pair were working hand-to-hand: she was responsible for the brand's jewellery and accessories. Last November, when de la Falaise passed away, the Pierre Bergé Institution - founded by Saint Laurent's long-time partner, Pierre Bergé - announced her death, evidence of the intense link that she maintained with the master of haute couture for more than 30 years.

Saint Laurent once said: "I want to thank all the women who have worn my clothes, the famous and the unknown, who have been so faithful to me and given me so much joy." Accompanied by his muses, Saint Laurent contributed countless memories to the fashion world during his 40-year career. Models and muses said their emotional goodbyes to the artist during his final spring 2002 couture collection, a walking tour of the forty years of fashions that defined the legend.



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